The Texas Rangers have a productive offense, and Ian Kinsler is in charge of jump-starting it. The 26-year-old second sacker is the team’s lead-off hitter, and in his two-plus years as Michael Young’s double-play partner he has provided a spark with both his bat and his legs. Kinsler has also contributed defensively, covering a lot of ground on the right side of the infield. David talked to Kinsler about his offensive game, his range factor, and the player who took his job at Arizona State.
David Laurila: In an interview four years ago, you talked about how you had started seeing the ball better and as a result had become locked in and more comfortable at the plate. Can you talk a little about that?
Ian Kinsler: The whole thing with recognizing a pitch, and seeing the ball, has to do with what position you’re in as a hitter. If you can get in a good position to hit you’re going to recognize the pitch a lot sooner. Around that time is when I basically learned how to hit. Ever since then I’ve been making minor adjustments, but nothing too major.
DL: How would you define a good position to hit?
IK: Just your best athletic position, whether you’re an upright guy or a guy who is lower to the ground–whatever it is. Your best athletic position is the best position for you to be in to hit, and if you can get into that position pretty consistently, I think you’re going to be doing pretty well.
DL: Does any one person deserve the lion’s share of credit for helping you to become a good hitter?
IK: Not really; there were a lot of people involved. There hasn’t been one person in particular. Obviously, Rudy Jaramillo is here, and when I got to my first big league camp in 2004, I started working with him. I’ve bounced ideas off of him, and he’s bounced them off of me, and from those I’ve made some minor adjustments.
DL: How does a hitter develop good pitch recognition?
IK: I think it’s just routine and doing something over and over. Some guys can do it, and some guys can’t, and it’s hard to describe why. Some guys can just do it better than others, and that makes them good.
DL: What do you see when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand?
IK: The baseball. You see the ball coming in, because that’s what you’re looking for. If you can’t see the ball, you’re not going to hit it, and the earlier you see it, the more time you’re going to feel like you have. You’re going to have the same amount of time either way, but if you get in a better position early you’re going to feel like you have more time to react to it. From there it’s basically reaction.
DL: How would you describe the relationship between pitch recognition and plate discipline?
IK: They work hand in hand. You can’t have good plate discipline without good pitch recognition. If you swing at balls outside the zone, you’re probably not seeing the ball very well; you’re probably not recognizing the pitch.
DL: What do you consider to be your best attribute as a hitter?
IK: I don’t know. I guess I’m a pretty tough out. I see a lot of pitches, I believe. I stand on top of the plate a little bit, and that takes the inside part of the plate away from the pitcher. I don’t mind if the pitch hits me or not, so I want to stand up there and try to take something away from him.
DL: You drew 22 more walks last season than the year before while striking out 19 more times. Can you address that?
IK: That’s a question of–everyone wants to get on base. As far as hitting with two strikes, you’re going to do that, what–about 60 percent of the time? So you have to be willing to hit with two strikes and work your way back into counts, maybe even work a walk out of it. You can’t be scared to strike out, and you can’t be scared to take a pitch that maybe the umpire made a mistake on, or it was something you didn’t recognize, or maybe the pitcher just made a good pitch. Sometimes you have to take it rather than bite.
DL: Did a change in your approach impact your walk and strikeout numbers?
IK: No, not really. I basically stayed with the same approach. I just tried to refine a few things, like trying to relax a little more at the plate mentally, and I tried to stay more consistent.
DL: When you’re not going well at the plate is the problem usually mechanical, or does it tend to be more mental?
IK: Definitely mental. I’ve been doing the same things mechanically for the last probably six years. So I don’t think I’ve changed very much. It might feel like it sometimes, but that’s just a mental thing where you feel like you’re doing something mechanically wrong, even if you aren’t.
DL: In those situations, are you simply not on top of your game mentally, for whatever reason?
IK: I don’t really know why people get into mental funks. I think that a little bit of it is that if you do something wrong on the field, or have a bad night, you start overanalyzing what you did. Maybe you start trying to fix it. It starts to become too much thought-process about what’s going on instead of just trying to be consistent and playing the game day in and day out.
DL: Do the Rangers employ a sport psychology coach?
IK: Yeah, but not too many guys use him for sports. Some guys talk to him about family stuff, but nothing too crazy about sports. But he’s definitely there for us, and he’ll try to pick our brain when he gets the opportunity so he can know us. I do think that he’s a good guy to have around, because anything that can help you with the mental side of the game is huge.
DL: When you switched from shortstop to second base a few years ago, was the bigger adjustment mental or physical?
IK: I think it was the physical difference, because I was so used to having everything in front of me. At shortstop, everything is a smooth action, and at second base everything is a little quicker. You kind of have to do things backwards, so it took me a little while to make that adjustment. I’m pretty comfortable now, though.
DL: Defensively, you’ve had a very good range factor the past two seasons. What helps you to get to so many balls?
IK: My legs. But it’s probably a combination of a lot of things. I try to play hitters in the right position; I try to read what pitch is coming in–which pitch the pitcher is throwing to that particular hitter; what the hitter did with that pitch before, and what his swing looks like. There are a lot of things you have to think about. Sometimes you’re wrong, but for the most part I like to be right.
DL: When you were playing shortstop at Arizona State, you lost your position to Dustin Pedroia. How similar do you feel the two of you are as players?
IK: He’s a good player; a scrappy player. He did well his first year, and I think he’s going to be good for a long time, but I think we’re definitely different. As far as Arizona State goes, he didn’t really take my job so much as I played bad. I didn’t play well, so I ended up moving to the bench and he took over at shortstop and played excellent ball. I figured that I needed to transfer, so I went somewhere else.
DL: How happy are you with your 2008 season thus far?
IK: I feel really good right now. I feel exactly where I want to be. Our team is two games under .500, so we need to do well on this road trip, then go home and pick things up there. Our last home stand wasn’t too sharp, but I think we’re in a good position to start putting things together.